New stadium wows team, cramps fans

Mark Heller

The official dedication of Elizabeth Lyle Robbie Stadium was supposed to have taken place on Saturday night before the Minnesota soccer team played Arizona State.
But construction and weather forced a delay in the festivities until Sept. 26, though now the dedication will be a mere formality for a stadium that is already open.
Determined to have the Gophers in their new home for the season opener, temporary bleachers were set up to accommodate the hordes of spectators and to make sure the Gophers had an open door to their new house.
While the seating was packed for fans, sophomore defender Juli Montgomery used three different adjectives to describe playing in the new stadium. “Unreal, awesome and exciting,” Montgomery said. “The whole idea that there’s a stadium for us, the donations, money and support. People are just as excited about it as we are.”
“We practiced here Thursday night under the lights,” junior Laurie Seidl said. “Seeing it all was so exciting.”
Unfortunately for those constructing the temporary bleachers, a few underestimations were made.
With the bleachers on only one side of the field, people were lined up along the fence around three sides of the rectangular field, mostly three- and four-people deep. The paid attendance of 1,432 was the largest crowd to witness a soccer game in school history.
When fully completed sometime in the next two weeks, the stadium will hold 1,000 fans and contain practice fields, a training facility, a media room and a club room.
“I’ve had people come up to me all summer because of the new stadium and the team we have this year,” Montgomery said. “That’s been exciting for me because usually I have to be like, ‘Hey, come watch us.’ And this year people are saying to me that they’re coming to see our first game.”
Amid the buzz on the part of the players and fans about the new facility, the coaches and administration welcome the new building as a major upgrade from the old St. Paul Campus field.
“We just went from a field of temporary bleachers and Port-O-Potties to this,” Minnesota coach Sue Montagne said. “It’s so exciting for the players and coaching staff to feel like somebody cares about us. The University of Minnesota and the women’s athletics department cares about us, and a great donor in Deborah Olson cares about us. Now people want to come.
“It’s a great place to come watch a soccer game.”
It was obvious that construction officials weren’t counting on 1,432 people Saturday night. But if opening night is indicative of things to come, more seats may be in the Gophers’ future.
“I figured it would be a big crowd, but this crowd surprised me,” Montagne said. “I just love that people were lining the fields and standing on the fences. That’s college soccer, and that’s college sports.”

Mark Heller covers soccer and welcomes comments at [email protected]